I didn’t grow up in a church that noted or celebrated Maundy Thursday. I recall seeing the name and being at least vaguely familiar enough with the term to associate it with Holy Week and the days leading up to Easter Sunday. To define it or understand it, however, I was lost.
Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday are noted for their celebration. Bookending the week, Jesus entered Jerusalem heralded as a king to start and was pronounced, “Alive!” at the empty tomb at the week’s conclusion. Days like Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and the Passion Week events they note, however, are far more somber and contemplative. It is often Catholics or more liturgical Protestants who observe Maundy Thursday although it can be quite common in other evangelical conversations and might even be growing in popularity. Do you know what it means and where the name is derived?
It wasn’t until adulthood and the start of my ministry journey that I uncovered the idea behind Maundy Thursday or participated in any traditional observances and gathered services regarding it. It wasn’t until a deeper inquiry that I discovered the meaningful connection. It being Easter, let’s chase a rabbit for a moment and scout out some connections.
The name maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum which means command and, you guessed it, is where we grab the word mandate. The longer phrase, mandatum novum do vobis, is translated as, “A new command I give you,” and finds its home in Jesus’ words in John 13. On the evening he was arrested, Jesus instructed his disciples [sans Judas] with these words:
“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Maundy Thursday, in terms of the Passion Week timeline, marks the night Jesus celebrated the Passover seder with his disciples in the upper room. You can read about that particular event in the following Gospel passages (Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:7-38; & John 13).
The holiday that they were honoring and remembering, however, dated back to Israel’s plight in Egypt, chronicled by Moses in the Old Testament book Exodus. It was God’s rescue from slavery under Pharaoh that Israel remembered. Going forward, it would be rescue from slavery to sin that believers cherish. The death of Egypt’s firstborns while Israel’s sons were “passed over” paved the perfect way for God to illustrate His grand design to place our sin’s sentence on His firstborn Son while we are quite literally spared. The Passover was all about rescue and it painted a picture of eternal choosing and precious salvation. Following this powerful moment of rescue in Exodus, God offered to His ransomed people his Holy commands.
Piecing together the gospel accounts, you know that Christ was anointed in a beautiful display of extravagant worship, and then humbly turned the towel toward his band of disciples, washing their feet one by one. Now prior to His great act of sacrifice, a new command was attached. John 3:16 outlines so beautifully why Jesus came and ultimately why Jesus suffered. The apostle wrote that God “so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” Christ’s service oriented display and eventually his sacrificial death, thus, become the pictures of love we’ve been commanded to portray.
"While Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday garnish the lion share of our attention, bypassing Maundy Thursday, we miss something that matters. Love. It’s how His light is shown and how the world will see Him and come to trust Him."
So, on Maundy Thursday, leading up to Easter, whether you enjoy an elaborate seder or simply read and meditate on the story of Jesus, how will you employ that Holy command to love as Jesus loved. Perhaps participating in Holy Communion, the priority should probably be examining His Holy Command. Consider the following questions:
Does my schedule and the ways I invest my interest, direct my work, and spend my time afford me opportunities to show others love?
Does the way I speak to others, address issues, and even conduct myself on social media reflect the love of Jesus in a service oriented, sacrificial, humble way?
Do my relationships reflect my discipleship, indicating a life of love that sparks the world’s interest in Jesus?
Remember these words. In Christ’s longest and most famous recorded discourse, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Peter took those words to heart and wrote in his epistle, "Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits” (1 Peter 2:12).
Jesus so aptly explained in John’s recoding, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
Paul prescribed, “I will show you an even better way,” and, “the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 12:31 and 13:13).
Leading up to Easter, are you leaning into love? As Christians everywhere honor Christ’s death and celebrate the resurrection, we would do well to remember first and foremost His holy command, that we love one another. While Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday garnish the lion share of our attention, bypassing Maundy Thursday, we miss something that matters. Love. It’s how His light is shown and how the world will see Him and come to trust Him.
The very best way to celebrate Easter this year might just be obedience. Jesus said that too. “If you love me, you will keep my commands” (John 14:15). So, via mandatum novum do vobis, it would seem that the Easter axiom we should focus on most is the command to love. With that mandate, we indicate how much we love Christ and we illustrate how very much God loves the world.
Read more about celebrating the resurrection of our living God.